CHICAGO -- As the White Sox celebrated for the second time in a matter of minutes -- for real, this time -- the normally placid, soft-spoken Jorge López bent over in front of the pitcher’s mound and pounded the grass in frustration with his right hand.
The emotions had gotten out of hand for López. They had for everybody, frankly, after a tense final eight minutes to Friday’s ballgame that saw the benches clear, an apparent walk-off overturned by replay after the White Sox had celebrated -- fireworks and all -- and a tailor-made double play ball deflected by López, allowing the winning run to score.
Amid all that chaos, the Twins’ stretch run for the American League Central began with a tumultuous 4-3, walk-off loss to the White Sox, leaving them a game back of the Guardians in the standings as their September gauntlet against the division began with an upswell of emotions -- and López, the Twins’ new closer, said after the game that he knows he has to leave the frustration of the evening behind him.
“Big closers stay compact within themselves,” López said. “That's something I have to learn for sure in those situations. It's something where I got out of control from the situation that was before. I've got to be a man and just close, just keep walking to my clubhouse. It's another day tomorrow. That's how I can say it. It's pretty much an angry moment. But I've got to control that. Hopefully, that thing, I learn from it.”
Because López was the Twins’ prized bullpen acquisition at the Aug. 2 Trade Deadline and has immediately been used like a traditional closer, it’s easy to forget that this is his first season in high-leverage relief situations at all -- and Friday’s ninth inning threw him just about everything a pitcher might see in such an appearance.
In a 3-3 game entering the bottom of the ninth, López allowed one-out singles to Romy Gonzalez and Elvis Andrus before his first pitch to Vaughn, a 97.1 mph sinker that ran inside and caught the Sox first baseman in the front shoulder. When López saw Vaughn giving him a look, the Twins’ closer said something to him: “Hey, you know I've been throwing inside the whole year,” per López’s telling.
"What I saw was him saying something, their pitcher, López, saying something to Vaughnie,” White Sox acting manager Miguel Cairo said. “He was just talking. Vaughnie didn't do nothing. So I went over there just to protect my player.”
“Their whole team, staff and players, end up on our mound somehow,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “And I don't like how that entire group ends up on our mound approaching our pitcher like that.”
When things settled down, López’s very next pitch ran inside on the hands of José Abreu, seemingly ending the game on a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch. Abreu and the White Sox celebrated while the crowd cheered -- but replay overturned the call, bringing everyone back to their positions.
Two pitches later, López actually induced what would have been the inning-ending double play, but he stuck his glove out, knocked down the ball and second baseman Nick Gordon didn’t have a play at home, ending the game.
The emotions were amplified by the tension of the stage. Friday marked the first of nine meetings between the division rivals before the end of the regular season, interspersed also among eight matchups between the Twins and first-place Guardians. In that time, matchups with this sort of energy will become the norm as the importance of each outcome is magnified. There will inevitably be frustration and excitement -- and the Twins will have to get used to that.
“Honestly, I love that kind of stuff,” said Gordon, who drove in all three Minnesota runs. “I love the intensity, the energy of a game like that. Honestly, just to hear the crowd rowdy and to see us even get a little rowdy, I love it. No one was hurt, so that's always a positive. But man, it just adds a little fuel to the game.”
They’ll have to regroup quickly ahead of their Saturday matchup with Cy Young Award candidate Dylan Cease, when they’ll need López and the others at their best. That goes for every game down the stretch.
“It's an emotional game, and both teams are just trying to win,” Baldelli said. “And there are probably more emotions out there than normal on both sides.”